NEC today confirmed that it will exit the smartphone business. NEC had hoped to sell its smartphone business to Lenovo, but talks between the two companies broke down without a deal earlier this month. NEC said that it will cease the development, production, and sales of smartphones immediately, though it will continue to provide support for existing models. NEC will also continue to operate its cell phone business, which it runs with Casio and Hitachi. "We were late to enter the smartphone market, and we were unable to develop attractive products," said Chief Financial Officer Isamu Kawashima. "That's what it comes down to." NEC recently released the Terrain with AT&T in the U.S.
The Terrain marks the first handset NEC has offered to the U.S. market in close to 10 years. Here are our first impressions of this rugged workhorse.
AT&T today introduced the NEC Terrain, a ruggedized Android smartphone that offers AT&T's enhanced push-to-talk services. The Terrain features a 3.1-inch screen, a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm snapdragon S4 processor, and a physical keyboard for text entry. It also includes a 5-megapixel main camera and VGA user-facing camera. The device ships with 8GB of internal storage, and support for microSD memory cards up to 32GB. The Terrain has a dedicated PTT button and earSmart technology, which NEC says gives the Terrain's dual speakers a significant boost with echo cancellation and noise suppression. It is ruggedized for protection against dust, water, and shock. The NEC Terrain will be available beginning June 21 for $99.99 with a new contract. It can be purchased through AT&T's business sales channels.
NEC is ready to exit the cell phone business. According to sources cited by Reuters, the Japan-based company may divest its cell phone business to Lenovo, with which it already has a business relationship. Lenovo, headquartered in China, has been clear about its ambitions in the mobile phone space, but has yet to field a successful device outside its home market. "Amid the rapidly changing market we are considering a number of ways to bolster the competitiveness of our mobile phone business, but nothing has been decided," said NEC in a statement. The company is also exploring a sale to a firm located in Japan, reports Reuters. NEC's handsets are generally sold only by Japan's mobile network operators, such as NTT DoCoMo and Softbank.
NTT DoCoMo today cancelled plans to form a joint venture with Fujitsu, Fujitsu Semiconductor, NEC, Panasonic Mobile Communications, and Samsung Electronics that would have had the companies working together to create mobile processors. The joint venture was first announced in December with the goal of competing with chips from Qualcomm and Broadcom. The joint venture was dissolved because a consensus on the details of the company could not be reached by the target deadline, which was the end of March.
Verizon Wireless sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission in early February detailing its thoughts on locked bootloaders on its smartphones. The letter was sent in response to a lawsuit filed against Verizon by a customer, who claimed that the locked bootloader on his phone violated the rules of the FCC's 700MHz spectrum auction. Verizon executive analyst Fred Powell explained, "An open bootloader could prevent Verizon Wireless from providing the same level of customer experience and support because it would allow users to change the phone or otherwise modify the software and, potentially, negatively impact how the phone connects with the network. The addition of unapproved software could also negatively impact the wireless experience for other customers." In other words, Verizon believes that locking the bootloaders of its smartphones will help protect its network.
Sprint today announced that the Kyocera DuraPlus rugged push-to-talk phone will go on sale starting March 11. It will cost $69.99 with a new contract. The DuraPlus uses Sprint's new CDMA-based Direct Connect service.
Research In Motion today provided an update to the Bridge application used to connect BlackBerries with the company's PlayBook tablet. The new Bridge software makes use of the HID Bluetooth profile to turn BlackBerry smartphones into remote controls for other HID-capable devices, such as the PlayBook, Android tablets, Sony PS3's, and Windows and Apple PCs. The updated Bridge software was released in coordination with the availability of PlayBook OS 2.0 for RIM's tablet. It is a free download from BlackBerry App World.
Clearwire has indicated that it will launch its TD-LTE 4G network by June of 2013. Clearwire CEO Erik Prusch said the company expects to have about 5,000 TD-LTE base stations up and running by that time. Clearwire is working with Sprint to determine the best locations to overlay its TD-LTE network with its existing WiMax network. The locations chosen will be based in part on where the consumer demand for mobile broadband services is highest, not necessarily where it will cover the most POPs. Soon after the initial 5,000 site launch, Clearwire expects to expand coverage to 8,000 sites. The TD-LTE network build-out will begin by the end of the first quarter of this year.
The Federal Communications Commission today announced plans regarding the Mobility Fund Phase I auction and Connect America Fund. The Connect America program is meant to bring wired and wireless broadband to under-served Americans, who typically live in rural regions. The FCC has scheduled a reverse auction to award $300 million in one-time Mobility Fund Phase I support to carriers that commit to provide 3G or better service to areas where such services are not available. The FCC today published a map that shows areas around the country that could benefit from such a commitment. The FCC is reforming the Universal Service Fund and Intercarrier Compensation systems to allocate the necessary funds. The reverse auction is scheduled for September 27, 2012 and is being referred to as Auction 901.
Sprint, T-Mobile USA, and DirecTV have asked the Federal Communications Commission to pause its review of Verizon Wireless's proposed acquisition of 122 AWS spectrum licenses from a handful of cable companies. At issue, say the signees, is the cross-selling agreement that Verizon has also struck with the cable companies to promote one another's services. Though Verizon has provided some information about the agreement, it has witheld some details and maintains that the cross-selling agreement doesn't fall under FCC purview. "As a result of the incomplete submissions by the Applicants, neither the Commission nor interested parties have an adequate basis upon which to assess the public interest implications of the proposed transactions," the companies wrote in a letter to the FCC. They are asking that the FCC halt its review of the deal until Verizon provides all the necessary information, and then reset the 180-day review clock back to zero. Verizon is paying $3.6 billion for AWS licenses from Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks. It also has a separate deal with Cox Communications to buy its AWS assets for $315 million.
Google today announced that it is taking more active measures to keep malware out of the Android Market. It said it is using a new service that it calls Bouncer to sweep through the Market for potentially malicious software It scans new applications, applications already in Android Market, and developer accounts for known malware, spyware, trojans and for apps that may be misbehaving. Google says that Bouncer has been running for a while now, and has seen the incidences of malware and spyware drop significantly in the last few quarters. Google also notes that it has built Android with security in mind, and sandboxes applications — meaning that can't always share data back and forth. It also reminds users to use the permissions listings for each application, which could identify malware. Last, it said Android is designed to prevent malware from modifying the platform or hiding, so it can be easily removed if necessary.
Qualcomm today announced that it and partner Ericsson have successfully completed the first voice call handover from an LTE mobile network (using voice over LTE — or VoLTE) to a WCDMA network. The call used Single Radio Voice Call Continuity (SRVCC), which is required for VoLTE calls to seamlessly switch to a WCDMA network when a consumer on a VoLTE call leaves the LTE network's coverage area. SRVCC and its predecessor CSFB (circuit-switched fall back) allow both LTE and 3G network connections to be supported on a single chip, which lets handset makers design smaller, less expensive, more power-efficient phones. The test was completed using an Ericsson handset with Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 3G/LTE multimode processor.
Nokia today said it is distributing a system update to the Lumia 800 that addresses battery performance and Wi-Fi connectivity. The update will be rolled out over the next two weeks via the Windows Phone Connector application.
T-Mobile USA today announced that its Bobsled VoIP service that operates through Facebook will now make calls through Android and iOS-based devices. The Bobsled Calling mobile application lets users make outgoing calls to numbers in the U.S., Canada or Puerto Rico for free via an internet connection. Bobsled users will also be able to send an unlimited number of text messages through the service. Other features include group messaging and cloud syncing. It is free to use.
The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended to U.S. states that all drivers be banned from using cell phones to make voice calls, send text messages/emails, or surf the web while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. The measure was voted on and approved by the NTSB. In a statement, NTSB chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said, "No call, no text, no update is worth a human life. This is a difficult recommendation, but it’s the right recommendation and it’s time." Though the NTSB has made the recommendation, it is up to individual states to adopt and enforce the necessary laws.
The Department of Justice today said that AT&T's withdrawal of its application to acquire T-Mobile USA with the Federal Communications Commission puts into question whether or not the plan is still active. In AT&T's request to withdraw the application, it said in so doing it would either "abandon the transaction altogether" or submit a substantially changed new plan. These comments gave pause to the Justice Department, which wonders if there's even a case to now pursue. Richard Levie, a special master overseeing the DOJ’s antitrust case against the merger, says the DOJ can proceed. "The FCC-related activities have not … altered the status of this litigation," he wrote in an order today. "Although FCC approval is necessary for the proposed merger, so, too, is a favorable ruling from the federal court in this case. As there is no requirement of which the Special Master is aware that one approval must come before the other, the federal court case remains on track." The trial is set to start on February 13.
Cox Communications said that starting today it will no longer sell wireless services to new customers. Cox had previously partnered with Sprint to resell Sprint services, eventually purchased its own AWS spectrum and launched its own 3G network in a small number of markets, before finally killing plans to sell its own 3G services and began reselling Sprint's services. Cox cited its relatively small footprint, its inability to compete with the larger, national-level wireless providers, and its inability to score "iconic devices" as the reasons behind its exit from the wireless business. Cox will continue providing service for its wireless customers through March 30, 2012. Cox said it will extend special offers to customers to help them transition to other providers, including a $150 credit on their bill for every line of wireless phone service disconnected. Cox said that customers will be able to keep their handsets, and it will wave early termination fees. Cox's cable television and internet services are not affected by this change.
Adobe announced through a post on its corporate blog today that it will no longer continue to develop the Flash Mobile Player browser plug-in for mobile devices. "Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores," said Adobe. "We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations following the upcoming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook." Adobe said that it will continue to provide bug fixes and security updates as necessary. Adobe will turn most of its mobile development resources on HTML5, which is now widely adopted across the mobile industry. "HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms," said Adobe. "We are excited about this, and will continue our work with key players in the HTML community, including Google, Apple, Microsoft and RIM, to drive HTML5 innovation they can use to advance their mobile browsers." Adobe also recently announced that it will slash 750 jobs from its payroll, which constitutes about 7% of its total number of employees.
Apple has made iOS 5 available to users of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. iOS 5 adds a significant number of new features to Apple's iOS device line, including improved notifications, iMessage, Twitter integration, wireless syncing, Newsstand, Reminders, and tweaks throughout the operating system. iOS 5 can be used on the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad 1 and 2, and the third- and fourth-generation iPods Touch. Users must connect their device to iTunes in order to download the system update.
LightSquared today announced that it has signed a wholesale agreement with CareConnect, which provides internet services to senior citizen housing facilities. CareConnect will use LightSquared's forthcoming Long Term Evolution 4G network to boost its coverage and services available to its customers.
Cox Wireless recently announced that it has completed the roll-out of wireless services to its entire footprint in the state of California. It has added the markets of San Diego and Santa Barbara to its existing coverage in Orange County. Now, all Cox Communications cable/internet customers can also choose Cox Wireless cell service if they so choose. Cox also offers wireless services in a handful of other markets, including Omaha, Neb., Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., Rhode Island; Hampton Roads and Roanoke, Va.; and portions of Connecticut and Cleveland, Ohio. Cox Wireless said it is on target to cover more than 50% of its cable/internet footprint with wireless by the end of this year. Markets planned for later this year include Topeka and Wichita, Kan., and much of northwest Arkansas.
Sprint has confirmed that it will no longer offer one-year contracts to new and existing customers starting October 2. Customers will only be able to choose two-year contracts after October 2 in order to receive device discounts. Alternately, customers can pay full price for hardware and continue month-to-month service once their current contract expires. Sprint said that the bulk of its customers already choose two-year contracts. Several other policy changes take place October 2, including a new 5GB cap on mobile hotspot service. Sprint is also launching its new CDMA-based DirectConnect service on October 2.
LightSquared today announced that it has signed AirTouch Communications, which LightSquared says is the first hardware company to use the LightSquared network to become a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). AirTouch will combine access to LightSquared's network with its own hardware to offer broadband-connected devices to its customers. LightSquared has signed more than a dozen other partners, which will use LightSquared's network on a wholesale basis to provide their own wireless services.
NTT DoCoMo today signaled that it, along with a handful of other Asian electronics makers, intend to band together to form a joint venture that will eventually supply the participants with wireless baseband chips. The goal is to reduce the companies' reliance on Qualcomm for such components. Reuters reports that some of the companies involved include Fujitsu, NEC, Panasonic Mobile Communications, and Samsung. DoCoMo will take a majority stake in the joint venture, which the companies believe will help reduce the cost of certain smartphone components. The companies would use the chips developed by this joint venture rather than Qualcomm's chips. The joint venture will be headquartered in Japan and start with an initial capitalization of $389.6 million.
Nokia today announced that it is partnering with Microsoft to deliver Symbian software updates called Microsoft Apps to Symbian Belle devices. Using the on-board phone update tools, Symbian Belle devices will have access to a number of Microsoft productivity applications later this year. The apps include: Microsoft Lync for enterprise IM and collaboration; PowerPoint Broadcast for pushing PowerPoint presentations from PCs to mobile phones; OneNote with SkyDrive for note-taking; and Document Connection for viewing Microsoft documents on Symbian Belle phones. In 2012, Nokia says it will add Microsoft OneNote sync with SharePoint as well as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint as native applications. Nokia believes the upcoming availability of these productivity applications proves that it remains committed to supporting Symbian devices. Despite the announcement of several Symbian Belle devices, Nokia will shift its main smartphone business to Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Mango platform in the coming months.
Openwave has filed a complaint against both Apple and Research In Motion alleging patent infringement on technologies related to mobile devices. In the filing, Openwave CEO Ken Denman said, "Before filing these complaints, we approached both of these companies numerous times in an attempt to negotiate a license of our technology with them and did not receive a substantive response. In the end, litigation is the only way we can defend our rights against these large companies that have effectively refused to license the use of the technologies we invented." The technologies in question pertain to how mobile devices connect to the mobile internet. Apple and RIM have yet to officially respond to the complaint. Openwave makes, among other things, web browsers for mobile phones.
Cox Communications today announced that it will resell Sprint services in a number of new markets, including San Diego and Santa Barbara, Calif.; Topeka and Wichita, Kan.; and portions of northwest Arkansas. Cox already offers wholesale services in markets such as Omaha, Neb., Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., and Rhode Island and parts of Connecticut. Cox predicts that it will be able to offer Sprint wireless services to 50% of its wireline/cable customers by the end of the year. Cox recently decided to scrap plans to offer services through its own wireless network, which was in the process of being built. Cox hasn't made a final decision on what to do with the assets of that network.
Google today announced a brand new social networking service called Google+, which aims to tie together a number of ways for users to share with small circles of family and/or friends. Google+ includes online elements such as "Circles", "Sparks", and "Hangouts", and other ways to stay in touch. On the mobile side, Google+ offers some key components to make connecting via phone easier. Google concentrated on making it simple to add GPS/location data to every post (if desired, location data can remain private, too) and upload photos instantly in the background to public/private online albums. The mobile component also includes Huddle, a new group messaging tool that is meant to help small groups coordinate with one another. Google+ is available in the Android Market and will work with Android devices running OS 1.6 and up. Google is also looking to offer an iOS application soon. iPhone users will be able to access a limited version of Google+ via the Safari mobile browser. Google+ is being launched in a limited, invite-only trial. Google hasn't said when the service will expand to more users.
Sony Ericsson today announced a new Android-based smartphone, the Xperia Active. This handset, which runs Gingerbread, is dust and water resistant, and the 3.3-inch capacitive Reality Display will work even when it or the user's finger is wet. The Active is targeted at those who lead active lifestyles, and includes exercise tracking software and a heart rate monitor. The Active also comes with a number of accessories in the box, including an extra battery cover, an arm strap, a wrist strap, and removable hooks for a hands-free headset. Other features of the Active include a 1GHz processor, Bluetooth, aGPS, Wi-Fi, barometer, and compass. It has a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus, face detection/recognition, flash, and 720p HD video capture. As for cellular connectivity, it supports quad-band GSM/EDGE and comes in two UMTS/HSPA configurations, including one for Asian markets. It will be available in the third quarter in select markets.
T-Mobile USA today announced the addition of two more pre-paid monthly 4G plans to those announced last week. The new plans offer unlimited talk, text, and 100MB of web at up to 4G speeds for $50; or unlimited talk, text, and 5GB of web at up to 4G speeds for $70 per month. When users cross the stated monthly web limits, their data speeds will be throttled down to 2G/EDGE. Both plans are available on a month-to-month basis and don't necessitate a contract.
The GSM version of the Samsung Nexus S may receive access to the just-announced Google Wallet service, but Google will work with T-Mobile to bring the service to market for that phone, according to Google VP of Payments Osama Bedier. Mr. Bedier ruled out circumventing carriers like T-Mobile in bringing Google Wallet - and compatible phones - to market. The GSM Nexus S has the same NFC chip required for Google Wallet as the Nexus S 4G that the service is being trialled with today. Google expressed optimism that more carriers would support Google Wallet soon, and that many more phones would include the necessary NFC chip going forward.
Cox Communications has confirmed that it will decommission its CDMA 3G network and will instead continue to re-sell Sprint's cellular services. In a statement provided to Fierce Wireless, Cox spokesperson David Deliman said, "We believe this approach is good for our customers, allowing us to take the necessary steps to fulfill our promise to deliver a Cox experience that customers expect from us. In continuing with our successful wholesale model for 3G wireless services, we will accomplish speed to market while achieving greater operational efficiencies from a wholesale model that continues to improve." Cox didn't provide a time frame, but said it hopes to offer Sprint's services to about half its footprint by the end of the year. Cox was using its own equipment to support its wireless network, and had even purchased AWS spectrum. It hasn't spoken of firm plans for its equipment and spectrum once the network is decommissioned.
At an event in New York City today, Microsoft announced more features for the upcoming Mango release of Windows Phone 7. Microsoft has added hundreds of new features to the platform, but focused on a few key areas. For example, it targeted better use of communications and added the ability to thread multiple different communication types (email, SMS, IM) by contact so you see all the messages from one person in one thread, no matter the type of message used. Mango adds support for groups, so users can bunch together groups of family, friends, etc. Other new messaging features include deeper social network integration across apps, the ability to link multiple inboxes, as well as support voice actions and voice dictation for messaging. Microsoft also targeted improving the application ecosystem and performance. For example, users can see apps in search results and hubs such as Music, Videos and Pictures. App Connect works with Marketplace, so results include both apps already on the phone and new apps to download. Mango supports improved live tiles, which Microsoft says are more dynamic and can provide more information. Other improvements made to Mango include the addition of IE9 for browsing, improved Bing search and "Local Scout" for better local search results. Mango will be available to all Windows Phone 7 devices this fall.
The Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission are setting up a special public forum, scheduled for next month, in order to dig out more information regarding how Apple, Google, and other mobile device makers and wireless network operators track and store user location data. The government bodies feel it is necessary to investigate how adequately companies such as Apple and Google disclose how location-based services work, whether or not the disclosures are comprehendible by most people, and whether or not they truly inform users about the pros and cons of allowing their location to be tracked. The forum comes after Apple and Google took heat for tracking and storing user location data.
Google today debuted two significant expansions of its Android platform. The first is called Android@Home, which, in conjunction with newly available developer tools, will allow application writers to create programs that can connect everyday home items to their Android device and control them. For example, Google envisions that people will be able to control the lights, major appliances, and other home electronics from their Android devices. Google said the first products compatible with Android@Home will hit store shelves later this year. Google also announced the Android Open Accessory program. This program will let developers create applications that more fully interact with and control accessories. For example, Google demonstrated how a PS3-style game controller can be hooked directly into an Android device for better gaming. Google also made the tools necessary for Open Accessory available to developers today. Google didn't provide a timeline as to when consumers can expect these services/applications to become widely available.
Great Call today announced the immediate nationwide availability of its 5Star Personal Security Service. The 5Star system works similar to 911, but instead connects subscribers to a Great Call representative who will have immediate access to the user's health profile, relatives' contact details, local hospitals and doctors. If the event requires 911 emergency services, the Great Call operator call reach 911 dispatch and provide the first responders with information about the subscriber and their situation. Great Call can share health information with 911, as well as logistics such as where the customer's spare key might be located in the event that the front door is locked and can't be opened by the subscriber. The service costs $14.99 per month for one line and $8.99 per additional line.
Nokia and LinkedIn today announced the availability of a version of LinkedIn that's compatible with Nokia's Symbian handsets. The new application for Nokia's Symbian devices allows users to send and receive messages from their connections, add new connections, respond to invitations, browse profiles, and view and compose status updates. The application is available for free from the Ovi Store.
Microsoft today announced its intent to acquire Skype for $8.5 billion in cash, pending approval from the boards of both companies. Microsoft will use Skype to increase the capabilities of its products' real-time voice and video communications tools. Skype will support Microsoft devices like Xbox and Kinect, Windows Phone, and Microsoft will connect Skype users with Lync, Outlook, Xbox Live, etc. Microsoft said it will continue to invest in and support Skype clients on non-Microsoft platforms. Skype will become its own division within Microsoft, headed by current CEO Tony Bates. Skype maks video/voice chatting software for a number of mobile platforms, such as Android and iOS.
Speaking to Phone Scoop today at an event in New York City, AT&T spokesperson Seth Bloom confirmed that the network operator is not yet ready to market where it offers "enhanced backhaul" services. As AT&T moves forward in building out its HSPA+ network, one of the sticking points of getting the best possible speeds is that the cell site users connect to needs to have enhanced backhaul. The cell sites with enhanced backhaul have higher throughput than non-enhanced cell sites. Bloom explained that if customers drill down far enough into the coverage maps of specific metro areas, they may be able to see a cell site-by-cell site designation of areas that have enhanced backhaul, but the vast majority of cell sites have yet to be upgraded with the faster equipment. Bloom said that AT&T is going to be aggressively building its enhanced backhaul systems out this year, and expects to have the majority of its HSPA+ sites "enhanced" by the close of 2011. For now, however, AT&T is not planning to market or clearly define where its fastest "4G" network is available. Bottom line, AT&T hasn't defined the criteria (a.k.a., enhanced backhaul cell density) by which it will refer to a given market as completely covered with enhanced backhaul. It will be up to customers to manually seek out the best coverage. By way of comparison, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless go out of their way to announce where their best service is available.